Force of Nature by Jane Harper (2017)

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In a follow-up to her outstanding debut novel The Dry, Jane Harper brings back Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk for yet another mystery.  (Read more about The Dry here https://wp.me/p6N6mT-34V ) A Force of Nature centers around five women who go into the bush for a corporate team-building retreat, of which only four emerge — battered and terrified — days after they were meant to meet their guide. The women are shocked to find their colleague has not made it back on her own.

When local police determine that the missing woman is Alice Russell, Aaron Falk and his new partner Carmen, are asked to head out of Melbourne and into the wild outback to join the investigation.  As it turns out, in addition to being a corporate partner at her accounting firm, Alice Russell is also a police informant helping provide Aaron and Carmen with information about her boss’ illegal activities. While it seems highly unlikely that her disappearance in the wilderness is related to her undercover work for the AFB, Aaron knows better than to ignore the possibility that it is more than a coincidence.

Offering assistance to the local police Aaron and Carmen help search for Alice, both unable to quell their unease the another member of the company might have learned that Alice was helping the feds and taken advantage of the retreat’s remote location to harm Alice, after all the bush has more than enough places for a women to disappear. Their worries do not end there; rescuers know the cold, rainy temperatures and the hostile terrain pose a challenge for even the most seasoned hiker. Adding to their worries, rumors that have plagued the National Park for decades, relating to a serial killer who targets solo, female hikers, begin to swirl around the search.

As Harper details for readers the search for Alice, she also takes us back to the start of the retreat, into the heads of the five women who were dropped off in the bush with little expertise and many, many long-buried grudges. Between the present day police work and the story the women reluctantly reveal, the full story is finally unearthed…along with several unexpected skeletons, real and figurative.  A great, atmospheric novel, and hopefully the start of a series featuring Aaron Falk.

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Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (2010)

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The dead abound in Louise Penny’s sixth Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel, Bury Your Dead. The characters in the book are surrounded by the dead: men dead hundreds of years in the past, men and women dead in a terrible recent tragedy, and — finally — one newly murdered man. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache must simultaneously work to bury his guilt and heartbreak over the loss of fellow officers and work to uncover the person responsible for a man murdered in the present. Layered on top of these two challenges — one emotional, one professional — Armand Gamache is also following the trail of a long-dead man whose final resting place would answer the questions of many Quebecois historians.

After the horror of a police investigation gone wrong, one which left the Chief Inspector wounded and grieving, Armand has traveled to Quebec City to the home of his long-time mentor and friend to recover. While there, Armand is working to recover his physical strength and to quiet the ghosts of dead officers who are haunting him.

In an effort to find peace, Armand begins to spend his days at a small nearby library run by and dedicated to the English settlers of French-dominated Quebec City. Acting as amateur historical sleuth, Armand is hoping the library’s books might offer clues about a famous battle in the 1600’s that resulted in English-rule over the French residents of the city for centuries. What he finds instead is a dead body.

The dead man is a well-known local man who was known to be obsessed with finding the body of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain. So obsessed, the victim regularly broke into buildings throughout the city digging for Samuel de Champlain‘s burial site. When the man is found in a shallow grave inside the English library everyone is left to wonder– did he finally find the famous grave site? And if so, was he killed in order to keep the location of Samuel de Champlain a secret?

Assisting the local police, Armand beings to make inquiries into the case and he finds some of the grief that has been hanging over him for months lifting as he digs into the mystery. Working gives Armand a renewed sense of faith in his work as a police officer and allows him to process the deaths of his fellow officers from a remove. Soon police work becomes historical detective work as well; as the city’s history plays a crucial role — 400 years later — in solving this present-day crime. Armand’s love of Quebec history make his findings in the case thrilling as he gets to use his investigative skills to find the killer and learn more about his beloved home province.

Armand must uncover the secrets of the murdered man, a man who was obsessed with uncovering the location of a long-dead hero; and both men — one living and one dead — are following the trails of two mysteries that are intricately linked.

 

Repost. Originally posted November 14, 2017

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series, #5

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Just as fall is beginning to creep into the woods of Quebec, another murder brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache back to the village of Three Pines. A body has been found in the town’s beloved bistro, run by Olivier, and shocks the entire village.

This murder investigation is unlike any the Chief and his team have previously investigated. The victim is a man known by no one: who has no name, no home, no neighbors, absolutely nothing at all that allows the police to identify him. Without knowing who the man is, it seems impossible to determine why someone would want to kill him.

The location where the body was found, at Olivier‘s, offers the only insight early in the case. Was this murder a threat to Olivier? An attempt, as some villagers believe, by a new business rival to destroy the bistro, in an effort to make his own Inn more of a success? Armand is not sure, but his instincts tell him the the bistro owner is at the heart of the crime, even if it is not at all clear how or why.

When the coroner finds that the man was not killed at the bistro, but murdered elsewhere and moved to the bistro, Armand and his team begin to search for the location of the murder, with the hope that this will give them more information on the victim.

The trail they follow leads them deep, deep into the woods surrounding the village to a tiny, hidden cabin. Inside the modest cabin they find the murder scene…and a mountain of antique treasures worth millions of dollars.

Was the man murdered by someone who wanted the treasure for himself? Or by a person to whom the treasure rightfully belonged? Or is there a third and more complex relationship this unknown, unnamed man had with the murderer, one that grew so discordant that a murder was committed in a fit of rage?

It is greed, the deep and dirty desire for more that leads Armand to the killer. The killer, “a hungry ghost” whose emotional emptiness he has long been trying to fill with money but could no longer be satisfied with ordinary riches. The hole in the murderer’s soul demands it all, and death was the only way to get more.

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Repost, originally posted 11/2/2017

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (2009)

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Swedish National Detective Inspector Joona Linda arrives at an icy public restroom outside of Stockholm to find a man brutally murdered. He soon learns the dead man’s entire family has also been slaughtered that same night. Hurrying to the scene in the family home, Joona finds an utterly horrific site — an entire family tortured and murdered — but he also finds the family’s teenage son is, miraculously, clinging to life.

The boy, Josef Ek, is rushed to the hospital in critical condition, in and out of a coma. Linda is desperate to interview the boy, who he knows can help them identify the murderer. Linda’s superiors believe the killings are over, payment for the father’s gambling debts. Joona Linda knows this is not a mob killing, this is a rage-filled attack aimed at Ek family…and he is almost certain he can catch the killer if he can just talk to the boy.

Enter Dr. Erik Bark, psychiatrist and expert on surviving severe trauma, called to Josef’s bedside and begged to help the police revive the boy so he can be questioned. Bark refuses, insisting there is no way; Linda insists there is a way…hypnosis. However, Dr. Eric Bark’s entire career — his entire life — was nearly ended by his research into hypnosis and he has been ordered never to perform it on a patient again. Joona Linda tells him of the murders and asks Bark to reconsider, tells him the lives of other members of the Ek family depend on what Josef tells them. So Dr. Bark agrees, Josef is hypnotized, and the police and doctors learn more than they could have anticipated from the beaten, tortured boy.

But they are not the only ones that learn something. Word of Dr. Bark’s hypnotism hits the press and a storm of controversy descends on his family. Bark’s former failures — as a doctor, as a husband, as a researcher — come back into focus and soon all manner of people are focusing their attention on Bark and his family.

Now Joona Linda must solve the increasingly terrifying mass murder case and now he must factor in dozens of suspects — all mentally ill — who have arisen from Dr. Eric Bark’s past to complicate the investigation.

An absolutely absorbing and terrifying tale that was impossible to put down! I cannot wait to read the next Lars Kepler book featuring DI Joona Linda; although I may wait a week or two, as this one gave me nightmares.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (2008)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Book #3

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The worst of winter seems to be receding from the small, lovely village of Three Pines. Snow is melting, flowers are beginning to bloom, and the town residents are cheerfully preparing for the village’s Easter celebrations. In the opening chapters, readers get to catch up with some of the characters they have grown to love in the series’ first two books as they — along with some new faces — plan for egg hunts and potluck lunches.

At the local B&B, the proprietor Gabri has planned a surprise event for Easter weekend — a seance is to be held, lead by a psychic who is visiting the village for the holiday. Some villagers are appalled at the idea of raising the spirits of the dead: some protest that a seance is in bad taste because the town has been the site of two brutal murders in recent years. Others because it seems sacrilege to host a seance during the Easter holidays. A group of villagers who see it as a lark arrive at the B&B on Good Friday. While fun, the seance does not produce any ghosts; which the psychic suggests is because the B&B is too happy of a place and the guests at the seance too cheerful.

Why not try again, it is suggested, but this time, at the haunted Old Hadley House?

The second seance is much darker, the house’s horrific past seems to be much more conducive to calling up the dead. Indeed, the guests at this seance not only stir up the house’s ghosts, but they make a new one when a local woman named Madeline is scared to death during the event.

Once again, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called the the sleepy village to investigate when it becomes clear that Madeline’s death was not only because the woman was very frightened; her death was hastened when she was drugged by someone before the seance began, drugs that helped stop her heart.

By all accounts the dead woman was beloved by all and no one can imagine who would want her dead. Gamache and his team know that love can turn to hate over time, and that some murderers can hide their evil intent even from those closest to them.

As the case plods along, Gamache is introduced to the idea of the “near enemy” theory by town book-shop owner and psychologist, Myrna Landers. It is possible, he is told, that people can hide their true intentions behind the mask of another emotion. What on the surface looks like compassion can really — in the mind of a person with ill-intent — be pity. Some might see a person in love, but inside, he or she might really just be feeling obsessive attachment: a emotion that is dark and controlling. As Gamache begins to ponder this theory, he suspects that the “near enemy” is indeed at the heart of the case. The murder is masquerading as one type of person, while a more sinister and vindictive person lies underneath.

Yet another masterpiece of mystery fiction by Penny, filled with heart, wisdom, and compassion.

Reposted, originally post from October 20, 2017

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear (2018)

The Maisie Dobbs Series, book #14

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World War II has begun and is casting a pall over all of Europe. England’s position of neutrality has come to an end and now tens of thousands of young men (and women) are heading over to fight in yet another war. Maisie, her colleagues and friends, are in shock that they are living through yet another war with Germany. All of their old wounds, and their old fears, are resurfacing as they watch one young person after another enlist to fight…and to face horrors they cannot even imagine.

Maisie Dobbs is still investigating cases for her London PI firm and regularly returning to the country-side to look in on her family; including its newest member, a little orphaned girl named Anna, who Maisie is working to adopt. Work is becoming more difficult as the war rages on. Maisie is still more than able to solve her cases, but movement around the country is increasingly limited and danger more imminent. Now, with German troops marching across France and English soldiers retreating back to boats they hope will take them across the Channel and home, the threat of attack on London is growing. Should Maisie keep asking her staff to come into the office (away from their families) when an air attack could happen at any time? Should she be with her parents and little Anna, not racing around looking for criminals?

Into this unsettled situation, Maisie agrees to help two neighbors search for their missing son. Young Joe Coombes, a boy Maisie has known for years, has taken an apprenticeship for a military contractor and had not been heard from in quite some time. Maisie heads out into the country-side — which is quickly being covered over in air fields, barracks, and training grounds for the military — to find the young boy. Maisie follows Joe’s trail across Hampshire from one military base to another, collecting pieces of information about the young man that grow increasingly troubling.

Joe — young and naive — has been in the company of much older, and gruffer, men who might not be watching out for a 15-year-old boy. He has been complaining to anyone who will listen that he is struggling with debilitating migraines since beginning his work painting military buildings. His employer is a man whose business dealings are focused on the money to be made during war-time and not on the safety or well-being of his employees…if young Joe wants to complain, there are a hundred men who would eagerly take his job, if just to stay off the battle fields.

As Maisie looks into Joe’s disappearance, racing across the countryside and throughout London, she knows time is running out. Her chances of finding Joe alive growing slim. Too much is happening and few are interested in helping find one missing boy. As the rural coast is flooded with soldiers retreating from Germany and even more soldiers being sent to fight in their place, and as the bombings reach the waters of the Channel, Maisie knows soon many, many boys will be missing or dead; not just Joe.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (2007)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Book #2

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In her second book in the outstanding Armand Gamache series, A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny takes us once again to the picture-perfect village of Three Pines in the days leading up to Christmas. Nestled in the mountains outside of Montreal, Three Pines is a small, sleepy, village filled with good people, cozy homes, and cheerful businesses. It is a place painted with such detail and heart by Penny that readers can imagine they are in the village along side the book’s characters: walking along the snowy town green, looking up at the towering pine trees by the lake, glancing in the windows of the tidy homes to see Christmas trees lit and fires roaring. Three Pines is a place everyone wishes to call home.

This Christmas, there is a dark stain sullying the village — CC de Poitiers. CC is hard woman who has alienated or insulted many of the villagers since her recent move to Three Pines. Along with her husband and daughter, CC is living in the old Hadley House, a house that looms over the town, a reminder of past horrors, of murder and pain. To her family, CC is hateful toward her daughter and cruel and dismissive of her husband. To the villagers in her new town, she is mean-spirited and largely detested. In a short time of living there, CC has managed to create a long list of people who could be called her enemies. But CC is possessed by a sort of madness, an obsession with herself that blinds her to how much others loathe her, all she cares about are her spiritual “teachings” that she is trying to bring to the (dull, stupid) world around her. She wants to enlighten these poor, backwoods slobs about the real truths of the universe; and she will stop at nothing until she has made millions leading the world down her “path”, which she calls Be Calm.

Despite the ill-will that CC has been spreading in town, Christmas finds the villagers happily celebrating their beloved holiday traditions: church, parties, shared meals, gift-giving, and well-wishes. One local tradition at Christmas is a Boxing Day breakfast and curling match that raises money for local charities. It is at this match the CC’s misdeeds catch up with her. She is electrocuted to death in front of the entire community, yet no one seems to have know who committed the crime.

Enter Armand Gamache, Chief Homicide Inspector for the Sûreté du Québec, and his investigative team who are dispatched from Montreal to solve the crime. Wise, patient, calm, and unfailingly kind, Gamache is known and liked in the town of Three Pines and utterly worshiped by his fellow officers. With his signature slow pace, intimate interview style, and his determination to examine the feelings of those involved in the crime; Gamache begins to piece together a list of suspects who might have wanted to kill CC…a list that is very, very long.

Through the ice, snow, and cold; Gamache and his team unearth the truth about who CC was and why she was such a hard, hateful woman and start to connect her to those people she had hurt, exploited, and abused, knowing that one of them was sure to be revealed as the killer.

Louise Penny is a brilliant writer and this book was utterly fantastic! Her prose is gorgeous; so poetic that it is almost spell-binding. Her words bring to life Three Pines in stunning detail and she presents us with characters who are so life-like it seems entirely possible that they will step off the pages of her book, as real as her readers. I have already started the next book in the series and cannot wait to read more about the characters — good and evil — Penny has brought to life.